"Robo bats" with metal muscles may herald next gen of flying machines
Washington, July 8 (ANI): Researchers at North Carolina State University are developing robotic bats with muscles made of metal that offer increased maneuverability and performance, which might represent the next generation of remote controlled flyers.
"Small flyers, or micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), have garnered a great deal of interest due to their potential applications where maneuverability in tight spaces is necessary," said researcher Gheorghe Bunget.
For example, according to Bunget, "Due to the availability of small sensors, MAVs can be used for detection missions of biological, chemical and nuclear agents."
But, due to their size, devices using a traditional fixed-wing or rotary-wing design have low maneuverability and aerodynamic efficiency.
So, Bunget, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at NC State, and his advisor Dr. Stefan Seelecke looked to nature.
"We are trying to mimic nature as closely as possible because it is very efficient. And, at the MAV scale, nature tells us that flapping flight - like that of the bat - is the most effective," said Seelecke.
The researchers did extensive analysis of bats' skeletal and muscular systems before developing a "robo-bat" skeleton using rapid prototyping technologies.
The fully assembled skeleton rests easily in the palm of a human hand and, at less than 6 grams, feels as light as a feather.
The researchers are currently completing fabrication and assembly of the joints, muscular system and wing membrane for the robo-bat, which should allow it to fly with the same efficient flapping motion used by real bats.
"The key concept here is the use of smart materials. We are using a shape-memory metal alloy that is super-elastic for the joints," Seelecke said
"The material provides a full range of motion, but will always return to its original position - a function performed by many tiny bones, cartilage and tendons in real bats," he added.
In addition to creating a surveillance tool with very real practical applications, Seelecke said that the robo-bat could also help expand our understanding of aerodynamics.
"It will allow us to do tests where we can control all of the variables - and finally give us the opportunity to fully understand the aerodynamics of flapping flight," he said. (ANI)